Sunday, 27 June 2010

The principle of intentional vagueness

It is said that Scripture is perspicuous, that the Bible is easy to understand. And it is, in general. Much of the narrative can be comprehended. The poetry is frequently accessible. This is not to say that we find it easy to understand the why of what we read.

I think much of Scripture is perspicuous, at least at the surface level. There is much that is difficult to understand as well. One may need to dig deeper to grasp what is being said and why, and the full depths of Scripture may be indeed difficult to plumb.

As well as this depth, or perhaps part of it, is what I see as a principle of intentional vagueness. There are parts that are difficult to grasp but it seems that, at times, this is intentional.

Some of what is difficult may be due to cultural differences. We don't come to the Bible with underlying suppositions that the authors and immediate hearers did. But there is an indication that God intends for some things not to be immediately apparent. There are several examples of this.

Prophecy at times seems to be this way. Not that prophecy is not specific, but it may discuss an issue with no or little spatial or chronological clues. So Isaiah gives prophecies about the Messiah as a suffering servant and a reigning king. While it may be difficult for the hearers to meld these issues, it does make sense with what we now know about death and resurrection of Jesus, his position currently, and his return to rule.

Jesus also said things that were intentionally difficult to understand. He specifically stated that he spoke in parables
so that 'seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.' (Luke 8)
It is not just that there are things that are hard to understand, rather that God intends for them to be hard to understand.

A complaint from infidels is, Why is the Bible not clearer in places. Leaving aside the fact it may be clear to culturally astute persons that pay attention to genre, at times the Bible does lack clarity. The question arises as to why.

I can think of a few reasons.
  1. It creates interest. Leaving something hanging promotes a desire for its resolution. Why did he say that? What did he mean? Surely it can't be thus?
  2. It distinguishes between those who wish to understand and those who do not. Enough information is given for genuine seekers, and the righteous to know and seek more; it leaves out enough information such that the disinterested, the mockers, and the fools can dismiss it.
  3. It allows for prophecy such that those prior to the event struggle to fully grasp what is to happen and those after the event to recognise the amazing accuracy of the fulfilment.
  4. It grows faith. We can and are encouraged to ask questions of Scripture, about what it means. But we will not understand everything. By seeing God's activity clearly in some areas of the Bible and finding him faithful, we can trust him to be faithful in areas we are yet to comprehend. Not that we won't grow in knowledge over time, we will; but we can never fully grasp everything. Vagueness reminds us that we can trust God with incomplete information.

    I don't mean the (false) claim that we should believe Scripture despite it being untrue; that we should have "faith" in things we otherwise "know" are not the case.
The Bible is not just a source of true information. Though it is true, and a worldview based on it is the correct one. But God intends for people to follow him. We see that in the explanations around why Jesus spoke in parables.
Then the disciples came and said to [Jesus], “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘You will indeed hear but never understand,/
and you will indeed see but never perceive./
For this people's heart has grown dull,/
and with their ears they can barely hear,/
and their eyes they have closed,/
lest they should see with their eyes/
and hear with their ears/
and understand with their heart/
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13)
This is a quote from Isaiah 6 where God sends Isaiah to the people. Paul also quotes it to some Jews in Rome who refused to believe the gospel (Acts 28). There seems to be a will by some men to refuse to accept the truth. If they had honest hearts and wanted to be part of the truth then they would turn to Jesus and he would heal them. Yet their hearts (wills) remain impervious to the truth and so Jesus speaks in parables and the secrets of heaven are not revealed to them.

There is enough in the Bible for a believer to study a lifetime and more. There is enough in the Bible (and world) to condemn the unbeliever, yet enough difficulty to allow for the mockers to reject it and instead choose deception.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks Stripe. I think I wrote this about the time I wrote this article and I thought the Hiddenness heading needed expansion.

    ReplyDelete

Labels

abortion (8) absurdity (1) abuse (1) accountability (2) accusation (1) adultery (1) advice (1) afterlife (6) aid (3) alcohol (1) alphabet (1) analogy (5) analysis (1) anatomy (1) angels (1) animals (10) apologetics (41) apostasy (4) archaeology (22) architecture (1) Ark (1) Assyriology (11) astronomy (5) atheism (14) audio (1) authority (4) authorship (10) aviation (1) Babel (1) beauty (1) behaviour (4) bias (6) Bible (38) biography (4) biology (5) bitterness (1) blasphemy (2) blogging (12) blood (2) books (2) brain (1) browser (1) bureaucracy (3) business (5) calendar (5) cannibalism (2) capitalism (3) carnivory (2) cartography (1) censorship (1) census (2) character (2) charities (1) children (14) Christmas (4) Christology (8) chronology (46) church (4) civility (2) clarity (5) Classics (2) climate change (39) coercion (1) community (2) conscience (1) contentment (1) context (2) conversion (3) copyright (5) covenant (1) coveting (1) creation (1) creationism (36) criminals (8) critique (2) crucifixion (12) Crusades (1) culture (4) currency (1) death (5) debate (2) deception (2) definition (15) deluge (9) demons (3) depravity (6) design (9) determinism (24) discernment (4) disciple (1) discipline (2) discrepancies (2) divinity (1) divorce (1) doctrine (4) duty (3) Easter (7) ecology (3) economics (28) education (10) efficiency (2) Egyptology (9) elect (2) emotion (2) enemy (1) energy (6) environment (4) epistles (2) eschatology (6) ethics (36) ethnicity (5) Eucharist (1) eulogy (1) evangelism (2) evil (8) evolution (13) examination (1) exegesis (21) Exodus (1) faith (22) faithfulness (1) fame (1) family (4) fatherhood (2) feminism (1) food (3) foreknowledge (4) forgiveness (4) formatting (2) fraud (1) freewill (29) fruitfulness (1) gematria (4) gender (5) genealogy (10) genetics (5) geography (3) geology (2) globalism (2) glory (6) goodness (3) gospel (3) government (18) grace (9) gratitude (2) Greek (4) happiness (2) healing (1) health (7) heaven (1) Hebrew (4) hell (2) hermeneutics (4) history (21) hoax (5) holiday (5) holiness (4) Holy Spirit (3) honour (1) housing (1) humour (34) hypocrisy (1) ice-age (2) idolatry (4) ignorance (1) image (1) inbox (2) inerrancy (16) information (10) infrastructure (2) insight (2) inspiration (1) integrity (1) intelligence (3) interests (1) internet (3) interpretation (74) interview (1) Islam (4) judgment (19) justice (23) karma (1) kingdom of God (12) knowledge (15) language (3) lapsology (6) law (17) leadership (2) libertarianism (12) life (2) linguistics (13) literacy (2) literature (17) logic (27) love (3) lyrics (9) manuscripts (11) marriage (17) martyrdom (2) mathematics (10) matter (4) measurement (1) media (2) medicine (10) memes (1) mercy (3) Messiah (5) miracles (4) mission (1) monotheism (2) moon (1) murder (5) nativity (7) natural disaster (1) naval (1) numeracy (1) oceanography (1) offence (1) orthodoxy (3) orthopraxy (4) paganism (2) palaeontology (4) paleography (1) parable (1) parenting (2) Passover (1) patience (1) peer review (1) peeves (1) perfectionism (2) persecution (2) perseverance (1) pharaohs (5) philanthropy (1) philosophy (32) photography (2) physics (18) physiology (1) plants (3) poetry (2) poison (1) policing (1) politics (30) poverty (9) prayer (2) pride (2) priest (3) priesthood (2) prison (2) privacy (1) productivity (2) progress (1) property (1) prophecy (6) proverb (1) providence (1) quiz (8) quotes (427) rebellion (1) redemption (1) reformation (1) religion (2) repentance (1) requests (1) research (1) resentment (1) resurrection (4) revelation (1) review (4) revival (1) revolution (1) rewards (2) rhetoric (2) sacrifice (4) salt (1) salvation (26) science (43) sermon (1) sexuality (16) sin (15) sincerity (1) slander (1) slavery (5) socialism (4) sodomy (1) software (4) solar (1) song (2) sovereignty (15) space (1) sport (1) standards (6) statistics (13) stewardship (5) sublime (1) submission (5) subsistence (1) suffering (5) sun (1) survey (1) symbolism (1) tax (3) technology (12) temple (1) testimony (5) theft (2) trade (3) traffic (1) tragedy (1) translation (15) transport (1) Trinity (2) truth (25) typing (1) typography (1) vegetarianism (2) vice (1) video (10) warfare (7) water (2) wealth (9) weird (6) willpower (4) wisdom (4) work (10) worldview (3)